General
30 May 2014

Researchers help uncover story behind mystery Iron Age meteorite in Hampshire

The Danebury meteorite main mass with cuts visible that were use

The Danebury meteorite main mass with cuts visible that were use

A group of researchers from The Open University (OU), Hampshire County Council Museums Service, the University of Arizona and the University of Oxford have helped to uncover a long-standing mystery of why a meteorite was found in an Iron-Age grain store in Hampshire.

The paper, which has been published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science this month, reports how researchers have used science to provide new insights into this mystery. Their results prove that the meteorite fell to Earth between 789-120BCE - a time when the Danebury Hillfort near Andover in Hampshire was at its most active.

Both the meteorite’s location in the grain pit and its good condition - which is much better than would be expected given the UK’s damp weather - came as a surprise to researchers. Its presence in a layer of natural infilling material suggests that it is possible it came to rest in this location un-noticed by the fort’s inhabitants. Deliberate placement into the pit cannot be entirely discounted.

Dr Diane Johnson, one of the researchers involved in this study, said: “People have interacted with meteorites since pre-historic times. We cannot prove that the people of Danebury placed this meteorite into the ground, but our study does support its association with the hillfort at its most populated time. Its presence in the grain storage pit is surprising. The good state of preservation of the meteorite was also a surprise; we would not under normal circumstances expect to see fresh metal within a meteorite having spent so much time in the damp UK soil.”

Councillor Keith Chapman, Hampshire County Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Recreation and Countryside, said: “The Danebury project never ceases to amaze – it is one of the most intensively studied Iron Age archaeological sites in Europe, and known throughout the world. Students have come from many countries to look at the finds archived by the County Council. Now, one of the smallest finds, a meteorite dated to around 350 BC, is set to make a big splash as it goes on display at the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover.”

The late Professor Colin Pillinger was head of the Planetary & Space Science Research Institute at the OU and led on this research. His co-authors have dedicated this paper to his memory. The study of the Danebury meteorite was a subject close to his heart, and he pursued it with his characteristic enthusiasm and tenacity.

The meteorite is currently on display at the Museum of the Iron-Age in Andover, approximately seven miles from the Danebury Hillfort.

ENDS

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